At the Association of Muslim Lawyers’ Annual Lecture 2014, the Minister for Law and Minister for Foreign Affairs Mr K Shanmugam talked about where the legal industry is heading, with some emphasis on small and medium-sized firms. Here are the main points:
Singapore as an International Centre for Law
The Singapore government has been actively promoting Singapore as a legal hub in order to attract legal work that is international in nature. The Singapore International Arbitration Centre (SIAC) has been at the forefront of this effort, and almost 9 out of 10 cases were international in nature in 2013. Out of these international cases, more than half involved Singapore law firms.
Next year, the Singapore International Commercial Court (SICC) will commence operations. It aims to replicate the success of the SIAC. It also follows the Singapore International Mediation Centre (SIMC), which has just been launched.
Opening up of Legal Industry to foreign firms
The Minister assured local law firms that domestic areas of law such as litigation, family, and criminal law are ring-fenced and are not open to foreign firms. The opening-up comes in sectors where foreign firms can bring in business that would otherwise not have been done in Singapore, such as in corporate banking transactions involving cross-border financing.
Help for small and medium-sized law firms
He urged firms to make use of grant schemes by IDA, SPRING Singapore and IRAS to improve on technology and productivity to better compete.
The recent change in the law that allows non-lawyers to invest in law firms is there to make law firms more competitive. The idea is that law firms will have easier access to capital and technology with the possibility of outside investors.
Enhanced criminal legal aid scheme
The Criminal Legal Aid Scheme (CLAS) will be enhanced next year, and it will help an additional 6000 accused. The enhancement is the result of the government funding the scheme in the form of honorariums to lawyers for handling these cases.